ROCKFORD – The starting pitchers battled through a back-and-forth game for seven innings, and that still wasn’t enough to find a winner in Monday’s Class 1A Rockford Supersectional at Rivets Stadium.
Newark’s Dalton Reibel and Newman’s Blake Wolfe matched each other inning by inning until finally Reibel’s Newark teammates pushed across a pair of runs in the top of the ninth, and Wolfe’s Comets couldn’t answer in the bottom of the inning, sending Newark to the state semifinals with a 5-3 win.
Reibel pitched 8 2/3 innings before the pitch count limit caught up with him with two outs in the ninth. He struck out two and allowed nine hits and three runs, two of those earned, while walking one. Unable to pitch Thursday in Normal because of pitch count rules, he caps off his season 11-0.
“I was just trying to pitch my game,” Reibel said. “I didn’t really change anything, I was just trying to throw as many strikes as I could.”
Wolfe threw 8 1/3, striking out eight and walking none. He allowed five runs, three of those earned, on nine hits.
“I had good control of my fastball most of the day,” he said. “Curveball was good again, kept them off-balance for a good part of the game. Just made some bad pitches late and obviously gave up two in the top of the ninth, and that tells the story, I guess.”
He needed only nine pitches to get through the first inning, not throwing a ball to any Norsemen batters in the frame, and other than back-to-back 19-pitch innings in the third and fourth, never threw more than 14 in any inning all day. Of the 37 batters he faced, he threw a first-pitch ball to six.
“Blake was changing speeds early, and then we really went fastball up quite a bit,” Newman coach Kenny Koerner said. “That’s Blake, pounds the zone, always gives us a chance to win, we just have to make plays for him.”
Newark’s winning rally in the ninth started with a Jake Kruser single to lead off the inning. After Mitchell Kruser reached on an error and Ethan Jeffers was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Luke Hauge drove in pinch runner Logan Benesh with a sacrifice fly to center. Tegan Kruser added an insurance run with a single to left.
“The Krusers, Jake’s been playing injured and he comes in and gets a big base hit,” Newark coach Josh Cooper said. “He had a base hit in the earlier innings. Can’t say enough nice things about that entire family. Our team, they came through in the spotlight.”
Newman (16-9) had a chance to answer after Reibel retired the first two Comets in the bottom of the ninth and ran into his pitch limit. Hauge came on in relief but walked Grant Koerner and Kory Mullen, then fell behind Kyle Wolfe, 2-0, before Cooper made another pitching change. On came Jared Slivka, who got Wolfe to foul off the first pitch and swing and miss at the next two for a game-ending strikeout.
“I actually thought we were going to win there at the end. I was looking for Kyle to have a hit and then Jake [Ackman] to win the game for us,” Kenny Koerner said. “That’s been us all year. We’ve been gritty.”
Neither team could get much offense going.
Newman struck first when Brennan Cook hit an RBI single up the middle in the second inning to drive in Nolan Britt.
Newark answered with a run in the top of the third when Mitchell Kruser and Hauge executed a double steal to score Kruser from third. The Norsemen took the lead an inning later as Jeffers drove in Lucas Pasakarnis with a single.
That 2-1 Norseman lead lasted until the bottom of that inning when Grant Koerner doubled to right to score Cook.
Both teams added runs in the sixth. The Norsemen got a leadoff double from Reibel, and he scored when Jake Kruser singled.
“He threw me a curveball the first pitch, and I kind of expected it, then he threw me a fastball low to try to get me to chase something,” Reibel said. “Then he threw a curveball right down the middle, and I just barreled it. It felt great. I got on second and got so excited. I thought that’d be the game-winning run. It turned out not to be.”
That lead also disappeared quickly. Brendan Tunink reached on a two-out error and scored when Cook blooped a singled just beyond the glove of Tegan Kruser trying to make a diving catch on a ball in shallow left.
There were missed opportunities for both teams. Both had runners on in the first but could not capitalize. Tegan Kruser reached on an error to open the top of the first but got erased when Newman turned a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play.
In the bottom of the first, Kyle Wolfe reached on an infield single and a throwing error and went to third on a wild pitch. On another wild pitch, he broke for home, but the ball bounded off the cement backstop directly back to Newark’s catcher, Pasakarnis, and the Norsemen were able to catch him in a rundown between third and home for the final out of the inning.
In the bottom of the second, after Cook had driven in Britt, Newman had runners on first and second with one out and a chance to add more, but a popped up bunt back to Reibel and a strikeout ended that threat. Newark also turned a 4-6-3 double play after Kyle Wolfe had led off the fifth with a single and another double play to end the seventh.
Newark (26-1), meanwhile, had the bases loaded in the fourth and Blake Wolfe worked out of it with a grounder to short. Pasakarnis then led off the eighth with a single to right, but Ethan Van Landuit threw him out trying to steal second.
“Just staying within myself and trusting my teammates,” Blake Wolfe said. “I knew when it came down to it, our team was going to make the plays, and they did, for the most part, behind me today.”
Newark advances to play Father McGivney in a state semifinal at 10 a.m. Thursday at Illinois State, a pretty big jump from the 10-10 season in 2019 for a team in the midst of its first 20-win season since 2007.
“We’ve won one regional in our history, so it’s just been a miracle season for us,” Reibel said. “Me and Joe [Martin], we go out and pitch, we’ve scored so many runs over the season, and we don’t have a lot of errors.”